The Most Important Stroke In Your Rowing Race or WOD

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Rowing coaching - the stride stroke - the most important stroke of your race plan

Pacing Your Rowing Race/WOD

I’m writing this post because I think it can help athletes with their pacing when rowing in a boat or on a rowing machine.

I’ve been racing on the indoor rowing circuit for quite some time now and I can guarantee that something is going to happen in every race I row in. There will be a competitor ahead of me for the first 300m-500m of my 2k piece. However, in the second quarter of the race I usually pass them and then they end up far behind me when I get to the finish line. Why does this happen?

It’s all about pacing folks!

So, what is the most important stroke of your rowing race?

THE STRIDE/SHIFT STROKE

What is the stride/shift stroke, I hear you ask?

This is the stroke where you intentionally shift gear from the anaerobic system to the aerobic system. Your physiology is capable of creating a great deal of power with the anaerobic system...for a short period of time.

However, if you work in this energy system for too long your body will create too much lactic acid. As a result, you are too far into the pain cave to do much for the next 1700m of your 2000m piece. You might not feel too bad until you hit the 1000m point of your race, but trust me you are going to pay for it in the third and fourth quarters.
My advice…

Make a conscious shift to your target split + 1 to 2 seconds at the 30-40 second point of your race.

For example, if you want to row a sub 7-minute 2k then your target split is 1:45.0 for each 500m of your piece.

You should row the first 200m of your piece at sub 1:45.0 (sprinting) and then you perform a stride/shift stroke. On the stride/shift stroke you pull harder each stroke but take fewer strokes per minute. You must ensure that you are rowing long and you allow more time and float on each recovery. Your shift stroke should also be at a pace where your pace is +1 or +2 seconds slower than your target split for the next 900m.

This does many things:

  1. Shifts your physiology to the aerobic system and prevents too much lactic acid building up in your body too early in your piece.
  2. Allows you to ensure that you are rowing long strokes for the remainder of your piece.
  3. Creates a rhythm to help you through the rest of your piece...until your sprint at the end (last 400m or so).
  4. Reinforces control so that you are able to row more efficiently.
If you successfully accomplish a good stride/shift stroke you will find that at the 900m to go point of the stroke, you will be able to start to pull your target split and the pain cave will not feel as bad in the second half of the race (it won’t feel good, it will feel better!). If you pull your target split for the next 500m (the 1100m to 1600m portion of your 2k) and then sprint the last portion of your piece you will hit your goal of a 7:00 2k or whatever your goal was in the first place.

I’ve seen too many rowers try to row their personal best by flying out of the gates. Metaphorically speaking, they try to put too much hay in the barn at the beginning of the day.

PACING IS KEY.

If you have done your aerobic volume work you need to trust your physiology at the stride point of your race. Have the patience to hit your target split +1 or 2 at the 30-40 second point and you will find you have more in the tank for the second half of the race.

Practicing Stride Strokes

Apart from the obvious tactic of rowing 2000m or 1000m pieces (pick your poison) and incorporating the stride stroke there are ways to practice your shift/stride.

Here is one example.

Warm up for 15-20 minutes as normal. Include some power twenty strokes with light paddle between each effort to warm up your system.

Row a series of six to eight 30 stroke pieces and have three minutes of light rowing between each piece.

For the first 20 strokes of each piece, go for it and sprint…

After those first twenty strokes, SHIFT to your base pace/target split and then row the last ten strokes at your base pace.

It’s important that you emphasize the downshift in stroke rate and feed in the power. The stride stroke is THE HARDEST STROKE of your entire piece. If you hit this right your boat will move on the other crews or your erg piece will be your best. I’ve been in crews where we hit this shift correctly and we started to move away...AT A LOWER STROKE RATE.

At the end of the work, row a 15-20 minute light row to cool down to flush as much lactic acid as possible. If you do this, you will feel better and be ready for the next day of training.

Conclusion

I have made an argument for the most important stroke of your race plan. Some athletes take three to five stroke to settle into their stride and that works as well for them. The most important thing is to shift energy systems at the right time.

Let me know if you have any thoughts or questions by contacting me at neil@coachbergenroth.com.

Row Fast!

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2 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    Three weeks ago I did a 2k at 7:24 averaging 30 spm for piece n felt pretty beat up.
    I tried ur shift stride stroke n pulled 7:16 n felt I could have pulled faster at the end. Here is my breakdown:
    1.1:46.6-29
    2.1:51.0-27
    3.1:50-27
    4.1:48.4-29
    What should my spm be for the middle part of the race?

    • Coach B says:

      Hello,
      I really like your splits and the fact that you creating more power at the lower rate. Honestly, It’s really difficult for me to put an actual number on it for you because everyone has different approaches. However, I think you are on target in the 28 spm range. My advice would be to spend time in the steady state (UT1 and UT2) zones trying to maximize the split in the longer pieces at the lower rates. Therefore, as the rate comes up for a test piece you are generating more power in the 28-30 range. The shift stroke is there to ensure that you are efficient at the stroke rate you stride to and to guard against spinning your wheels (which it sounds like happened in the 7:24 piece). If you would like to contact me at neil@coachbergenroth.com, I’ll send you a couple of steady-state workouts (no charge, just want to help!) to help you dial in the power at the lower rate and we can continue to the conversation. I hope this helps and glad you are improving! Cheers, Neil.

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